Fans and professional mixed martial artists have showered ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith criticism this week. This dispute stems from Smith's recent appearance on Black On Air with Larry Wilmore. During the interview, Smith spoke about the representation of women in sports leagues that are predominantly made up by men. Specifically, Wilmore asked Stephen A. Smith, a former NBA reporter, about San Antonio Spurs Assistant Coach Becky Hammon. As the conversation developed, Smith veered toward mixed martial arts and boxing, sports he has not covered to the degree he has covered basketball.
“First of all, I love it. I think there’s an awful lot of women who are incredibly qualified to do the jobs they’re doing,” Smith said.
“Where I jump off the bandwagon is where they try to engage physically. For example, I don’t ever want to see a woman boxing a man. I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to see a woman in the UFC fighting a man—even though there are some women out there that will kick the dude’s butt."
Although Wilmore did not ask about boxing and MMA specifically, Smith continued to dive deeper into the worlds of boxing and MMA.
“When I think about pugilistic sports, I don’t like to see women involved in that at all. I just don’t like it. I wouldn’t pass, I wouldn’t promote legislating laws to prohibit them from doing so, but I don’t want to see women punching each other in the face. I don’t want to see women fighting in the octagon and stuff like that," he added.
While Smith does not cover the sport directly, his voice carries a special weight when discussing combat sports. Smith's employer, ESPN, currently conducts business with both the UFC and Top Rank Boxing. Not to mention, he appears on cable's most popular sports show, First Take, alongside longtime boxing reporter, Max Kellerman. As one would imagine, many women in MMA and boxing took issue with his comments. Most notably, the first Black woman to sign with the UFC, Angela Hill, called out Smith.
“Shut up," she tweeted while referencing Zhang Weili, who participated in a UFC match against Joanna Jedrzejczyk that was widely considered the best fight of the year regardless of gender.
As the podcast made its rounds across social media, other media members jumped in. Boxing and MMA journalist Nancy Kidder added her two cents.
"Ronda Rousey went 12-0 with 12 stoppages & made more money in 2015 than any fighter. Stephen A. Smith, you have a right to a preference, but without women, you wouldn't have the UFC product you represent on ESPN," she tweeted.
Smith has yet to respond to the backlash he has faced since the interview.
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